The Off-Grid Classroom

Blog written by Mark Reynolds Sales Manager for Education & Third Sector at Microsoft.

One of the best things about working in the Microsoft Education team is getting out to see our partners, to learn about innovative projects and new technology. Before Christmas, I went to see a company called Solar Ready to see something which has the potential to improve the way we deliver technology enhanced learning across the world. And best of all, it was sitting just down the road from our Reading campus.

imageWe’ve written about the use of solar technology in schools before, with this post about how Solar Ready helped Cadoxton Primary school in Wales to replace their IT rooms with a solar powered Multipoint server solution. This time, the principals are the same – how can we use more technology in schools, whilst reducing the environmental impact and our electricity bills? – but the solution they’ve come up with, is much more ambitious.

The Off-Grid Classroom is essentially a container with solar panels on the roof and an IT rich classroom inside. It can keep the room (and the IT equipment) cool when used in hot climates, but the solar is powerful enough to run a class of 16 PCs and a teacher station even when it’s sitting in a rainy car park in Berkshire.

The unit I saw was originally built for a project in Ghana with Intel, however it is already generating interest both home and abroad.

The Off-Grid Classroom is ideal when no permanent classroom structure exists. For the developing world, where no IT exists in the school at all – a container could literally be “dropped in” to provide the children with their first experience of using technology for learning. In the UK or other developed countries, it could help schools increase their estate quickly or to put technology in a location with no power or data cabling.

Here are 5 great things about the Off-Grid Classroom concept:

• Fast to deploy and fully self-contained

• Solar powered - sufficient power to work in daylight and dark hours and designed to work completely off grid

• Secure environment for the classroom equipment

• Different sizes: a 20 foot container for 15 pupils and 1 teacher, or a 40 foot container for 30 pupils and 1 teacher

• Enabled for internet connectivity via smart small cell (additionally capable of providing 2G or 3G connectivity for the community).

Inside the container is a table with power and data connectivity, plus an air-conditioning system which cools a laptop or tablet from underneath. While I was there, the teacher station was running at the front, plus we all plugged in our phones and laptop chargers to test it out. Everything worked like a dream, even though it was far from sunny outside.

imageimageI was not the only person to visit the Off-Grid Classroom before it was shipped out to Ghana. Here are some comments from others who were just as impressed as I was;

“I was very impressed with the concept and design of the pod, which can provide an excellent solution to areas with little or no energy infrastructure.

I am excited about LG’s contribution to be able to provide the materials towards this innovative energy solution.”

Nick Ryman, LG

“The most interesting point for me was all the combination of furniture design, IT and energy coming together to offer a solution. It’s an attractive proposition as a model for how energy storage systems could work, and it would be great to see the container in the field.” Merlin Mann, British Council

Lastly, the technology involved does not necessarily have to be delivered in a container, but as a kit to go inside an existing building or Portacabin here in the UK. If you want to find out more, or meet the team from Solar Ready, you can visit them at BETT on stand B149 or email


Both schools and the IT sector have a responsibility to think about the environmental impact that increasing amounts of technology equipment is having on the planet – not to mention on schools electricity bills.

If you know of innovative solutions for Green IT or have done a project at your school looking at technology and the environment, then we’d love to hear about it. I wonder how many of our classrooms will be Off-Grid in 10 years’ time?

Mark Reynolds is the Sales Manager for Education & Third Sector at Microsoft. @themarkreynolds

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